Originally published February 20, 2012.
Share Your Story – New series from BirthTouch!
Ann Kirchner, CD(DONA) has graciously agreed to share her personal story of her birth, birth trauma, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and her struggle to just get recognition and diagnosis and treatment for severe postpartum depression.
Her story is very important. Spreading the word about mental health during and after pregnancy is important work. A traumatic medical experience during birth is a risk factor for PTS/PTSD, which in turn has concurrent anxiety and depression. Necessary medical interventions can cause trauma, and this is not well known or commonly recognized. The more we band together and talk about it, the more we help others.
As a result of her experiences, Ann has now dedicated her life to helping other women and families. She studied to become a DONA certified doula, now volunteers on a warmline/helpline for postpartum support in Minnesota, and is now studying to be a mental health professional.
Here’s Ann’s Story:
Having a baby is full of strange surprises. Back when I was expecting my first child, I read all the mainstream pregnancy books, bought every goofy baby gadget, took birth and baby classes and considered myself totally completely 100% prepared for my first child’s arrival into the world….sorry, just pausing to laugh here…I shall now continue. Nothing and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for what would happen the day he was born and in the months that followed.
I had a textbook pregnancy. Everything went the way it was supposed to, at least according to the book, “What to Expect When You Are Expecting.” I had morning sickness for the first 12 weeks, gained exactly 34 pounds, the nursery was done on schedule and I worked right up to 39 weeks. My ‘due date’ came…and then it went. A week went by, and still no baby. I was feeling more frustrated by the minute.
When 12 days had passed, I stood in my OB’s office and demanded something be “done.” My OB, bless his heart, was not interested in discussing induction until the 42 week mark. However, I must have been very persuasive that day. An ultrasound revealed a “big” baby and a vaginal exam indicated I was not giving birth anytime soon. To pacify my impatience, he suggested a cesarean for 7 a.m. the following morning. Anxious to have this baby, I quickly agreed. That evening, I stopped obsessing about when I would go into labor, and just like that, my water broke.
We arrived at the hospital at midnight with labor in full force. Because a cesarean was on the books my OB proceeded to do surgery. At 1 a.m., my son was born–all 9 lbs 9 oz of him! Heavily drugged, I slept through the first seven hours of his life. Logan was brought to me in the morning and placed in my arms. He was a total stranger.
I barely slept the rest of my stay. Visitors were constant. Everyone got to hold the baby, feed the baby, and change the baby—except for me. My husband, complaining about the fold-out couch went home each night while the baby was sent to the nursery and I was totally alone. I cried buckets for no reason I could understand. I never tried to breastfeed him. I just looked at him and felt….nothing.
Sometime during my last night, a nurse came into my room and awoke me to give me an injection of some kind. When I asked her what it was, she said what sounded like “Logan” to me (it was actually a blood thinner called Lovenox). The following morning I went home, laid down for a nap, and awoke in the worst pain of my life. Unable to move or even urinate, I knew something was horribly wrong. My abdomen was black and blue. The pain was so bad that I wanted to die.
An excruciating ultrasound in my OB’s clinic revealed a 22 cm rectus sheath hematoma. The hematoma would resolve itself over time, the pain masked by a mix of narcotics, sleeping pills, and muscle relaxers; however emotional and psychological damage was done. We had not bonded and we were feeling it. I lay in bed, unable to move, and listened to him scream for seven straight hours in the arms of others. Unbothered by the cries, I obsessively replayed the events of the week over and over again. This wasn’t happening. Why couldn’t I sleep? Why did this have to happen to me? Why wasn’t I happy?!
I did not bring my baby to my two week postpartum visit. As I sat in the waiting room, I ran into a friend who had given birth vaginally just 4 weeks prior. She was happy, glowing and holding her quiet, sleeping baby. I was jealous and angrier with myself than ever. Other than being tired, everything was going great for her. I told her I was happy for her and then ran off, hoping she wouldn’t notice I didn’t even want my baby near me.
At three weeks postpartum I had lost over 50 lbs (I only gained 34!) and I was not sleeping. Craziness was a normal state of mine for me. I cried non-stop. My son was fussy and also didn’t sleep. I called family and friends begging them to take him at all hours so I wouldn’t have him. I ended the week in the ER, depressed and desperate for sleep. The doctor, oblivious to all the signs of postpartum depression, suggested stronger prescription sleeping pills. Unaware of my desperation, he provided me with a lethal dose of free samples. If my mother hadn’t been with me that afternoon, I would have taken every single one.
Despite four clinic visits and one trip to the emergency room it took several bizarre phone calls in the middle of the night to my OB’s office for my depression to finally get noticed. It was my admission that I was taking 10 to 12 sleeping pills at a time (and still not sleeping!) and leaving windows open with the hopes that someone would break in and steal my baby that did it. I was finally diagnosed and prescribed antidepressants and therapy. Just knowing what was wrong with me and that there was a plan to get better was like a weight being lifted.
I stumbled into a babywearing meet up and was introduced to the concept of attachment parenting Six weeks after his birth, I held him in my arms I began to feel like I might survive.
Over time, Logan and I bonded and I fell completely in love with my baby. When he was one year old, I trained as a doula with DONA International. I successfully advocated for my second birth by demanding less drugs, more skin-to-skin contact, rooming-in, and banishing all the unwanted visitors from my hospital room so that I could focus on breastfeeding. My second birth was very healing.
Six years later I look back and I find it rather foolish to have read a dozen books on giving birth, but not one on what it was like to have a baby. I skipped the chapters on postpartum depression because I wasn’t going to have that! While a postpartum rectus sheath hematoma is an incredibly rare occurrence, a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) is not—as many as 1 out of 7 women who give birth will experience perinatal depression or anxiety to some degree.
Thankfully there is help available and it is very individualized. For some women, that help is a support group, meeting a therapist, finding balance through yoga, or even reading self help books. In my situation, medication with therapy was the answer. Motherhood is culture shock and we should never think we need to do it alone. Pregnancy is full of surprises. Giving birth is full of surprises. Having a baby is full of surprises. Peace.
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